James’s warning to rich oppressors

Now listen, you rich people, weep and wail because of the misery that is coming on you. Your wealth has rotted, and moths have eaten your clothes. Your gold and silver are corroded. Their corrosion will testify against you and eat your flesh like fire. You have hoarded wealth in the last days. Look! The wages you failed to pay the workers who mowed your fields are crying out against you. The cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord Almighty. You have lived on earth in luxury and self-indulgence. You have fattened yourselves in the day of slaughter. You have condemned and murdered the innocent one, who was not opposing you.

James 5:1-6

James is aptly compared to Proverbs and is probably the closest New Testament book in line with the wisdom tradition in the First/”Old” Testament, the Hebrew Bible. But in this passage, James echoes the passion and cry of the prophets against wealthy oppressors. The prophets didn’t hold back their warning of God’s judgment to come against the rich who lived it up at the expense of others, especially those who were poor. Wealth in and of itself is not the problem according to the biblical witness. It’s what people do with that wealth. While God has given humankind all things to enjoy, God wants and expects those with plenty to help those who are in need. And we see a good number of examples of that in scripture, such as the story/parable our Lord told of the good Samaritan, who apparently had at least some wealth.

That is not what James is getting at here. Instead it’s a warning to the rich that judgment day is coming, that they are setting themselves up for disaster, even getting themselves fat for the day of slaughter. Instead of laying up treasures in heaven, they are investing everything into this life for themselves. And with a stingy, Scrooge-like heart, rather than a generous giving heart. Jesus’s words are apt here:

“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

“The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are healthy,a]”>[a] your whole body will be full of light. But if your eyes are unhealthy,b]”>[b] your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness!

“No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.

Matthew 6:19-24

Notice the links in this passage to the following footnotes:


  1. Matthew 6:22 The Greek for healthy here implies generous.
  2. Matthew 6:23 The Greek for unhealthy here implies stingy.

The rich were in service to the god of Money, the love of which, as we read from Paul (1 Timothy 6) being a root of all kinds of evil. God expects people to help others when and as they can, by grace out of a cheerfully willing heart. And God does not look kindly on those who have plenty of wealth even at the expense of others, particularly those who are poor. Judgment Day is coming, and it won’t be pretty. All the evil that has been done will have to be accounted for, when God judges everyone according to their works. In James’s day: unpaid wages, and out and out murder: the innocent or righteous one, and in a sense our Lord himself because of his identification with his people. In our day it could refer to a heartless failure to not love one’s neighbor as one’s self, played out in all kinds of ways in terms of what is done and left undone.

This is not a feel good passage in James. James really wasn’t about giving people a lift, except in helping people to a living faith. This ends up being a word of encouragement to those who were oppressed and suffering, and praying to God for relief. At the same time it could have been a warning that would get not only to the ears, but into the hearts of those who needed to hear it. That they might repent and change their ways, yes, in the fear of God and God’s judgment to come. But James does not refer to any such promise here.

review of Karly’s story, *A Silence of Mockingbirds: The Memoir of a Murder*, by Karen Spears Zacharias

A Silence of Mockingbirds: The Memoir of a Murder

Karen Spears Zacharias has written another memoir, a page turner, which tells it as it is, bare knuckles and all. It brings home the growing problem of child abuse and neglect. And it does so through the story involving people she knows.

Here in America, a report of child abuse is made every thirty seconds. Here in the land of the free, an estimated 906,000 children are victims of abuse and neglect every single year. That’s nearly a million children. Here in the home of the brave, 1,500 abused children die annually, usually from injuries sustained in their own homes. (p 309)

David Sheehan moved to the United States from Ireland, and met Sarah Brill. They married, and had a daughter, Karly. David was a loving, devoted father, but Sarah soon went back to her partying ways which soon meant the death of a marriage, and tragically, the death of their daughter.

Karen brings this story home in a way which helps us personalize a problem that has reached epidemic proportions in the United States: child abuse and neglect. You are not going to find a sweeter child than Karly, she indeed was a special child. And yet every single child is precious and special to Jesus, and should be special to us, as well.

Karly was specially gifted with a keen appreciation for and love of life. Even at the age of three she carried on conversations with adults, was a peacemaker in keeping the children playing well together in child care, soft-spoken, yet full of life. She had a special bond with her father, David. But her mother let her down, by not putting Karly and her needs above her own wants. And the system of Child Protective Services along with law enforcement failed to see what was right in front of them.

As a result of this tragedy, Corvallis put into place better policies, and Oregon passed “Karly’s Law” to prevent such failures. In the Journal of the San Francisco Police Association, this book was strongly recommended to everyone in the San Francisco Criminal Justice system.

You really need to read this book for yourself. Karen’s journalistic career, including that within criminal cases, serves the book well, along with her gift of making the pages weep, along with all the beauty. Karly’s prayer in the end was answered. And I’m sure God is at work through her all too short life. And us reading it, praying and thinking on it, and lovingly acting when needed can be a part of that ongoing work.

Jesus’ teaching on murder, anger and reconciliation

“You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘You shall not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to a brother or sister, ‘Raca,’ is answerable to the court. And anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell.

“Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift.

“Settle matters quickly with your adversary who is taking you to court. Do it while you are still together on the way, or your adversary may hand you over to the judge, and the judge may hand you over to the officer, and you may be thrown into prison. Truly I tell you, you will not get out until you have paid the last penny.

In this section in “the Sermon on the Mount,” Jesus is dealing with murder, and how those of the kingdom of God come in him are to live in the here and now in light of that new reality. It sounds like Jesus is saying something like, “Forget the murder. Let’s get to the heart of it. Your anger. And then let’s deal with that in relationship to your brother and sister in faith (of Israel in the context, of the faith community) and with relationship to your adversary.

Jesus first deals with the danger of anger itself. If we cut down our brother or sister in our anger, we can be in danger of serious judgment. We need to pay attention to what we actually say, and we need to be concerned about the heart with which we say it.

Jesus next goes on to worship. If we are going to worship with others, and I think taking Holy Communion or gathering around the Lord’s Table would fit well into that category, and we remember that someone holds something against us, we must go and be reconciled to them. I believe this involves matters in which we have clearly sinned against someone, or in which we have been clearly perceived to have done wrong against them, even if that’s a misperception. We are to make that right, or clear up the misunderstanding. We are to be reconciled to them. Of course one can forgive, with a reconciliation which is not full in this life. If the one we forgive has a problem so that we can’t trust them, then we won’t be able to resume the relationship we had with them in the past. Or it may make no sense to do so, except on a level removed from what once was, say in the case of divorce.  When reconciliation comes, it should be thought that we will both be better in the relationship, at least wiser, even if the relationship is no closer than before. Of course we are to be growing in our love for God and for each other. All of this is in the context of not murdering our brother and sister in our heart, as John says later in his first letter, the murder/anger problem Jesus is dealing with. We can’t say we love God while we hate one of God’s children in our heart. Hate, anger, and murder as far as the heart is concerned, are not far apart.

And then Jesus turns to our adversary, and specifically one suing to take us to court. Jesus says to deal with that quickly, to settle matters with them to avoid being taken to court. That is also related to the murder/anger issue. We must not be angry even against our adversaries, Jesus is saying, I take it. We must avoid anger showing up in hard words we can volley at and against others. This is the way of Jesus for us, if we are to be something other than ruined salt, and a hidden light to this world.

And so we want to follow the words of Jesus, if we’re to be followers of Jesus, together in Jesus for the world.

only one word will suffice

“A voice is heard in Ramah,
weeping and great mourning,
Rachel weeping for her children
and refusing to be comforted,
because they are no more.”

At the end of what is considered to be the Christmas story, we find King Herod trying to track down the one who allegedly could be the Messiah, and therefore a threat to his throne, his kingdom. And how he ends up killing all the boys two years old and younger in Bethlehem and its vicinity.

Yesterday there was another act of evil, mostly victimizing children. We are left speechless, in deep distress, in grief and shock.

During such times no words can really suffice. We are better off simply being present, in prayer.

There really is only one word which will suffice, though we know not how. A silent word, and yet very much alive: Jesus. We know not how in our experience; nothing can ever replace the children and people who were lost. And yet we go on, speaking and praying the name of Jesus.

Jesus is the one hope which will bring an end to death. By his appearing he abolished death, and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel. Our hope, the hope of the world lies in him.

And so we look to Jesus during this time of grief, this time of trouble. We seek him. And find consolation only in and through him. As we look forward to the day when all evil is done, and salvation has come. In the reappearing of Jesus, present with us now by the Spirit. We in Jesus present and in prayer for all who are grieving now, as well as for the world. Even as we ourselves look to Jesus.